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On the social organisation of western armed forces after the Cold War: a re­turn to warrior ethics?

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Af Lars Nyholm, MA i War Studies

Artiklen er baseret på et “paper", en del af forfatterens MA i War Studies, King’s College, Londen 1997.

Introduction

The Cold war on the one hand necessitated and justified large powerful military forces. On the other hand the potential use of these same forces was very limited because of the nuclear dimension to the stalemate that brought them about. Today the Cold War is over. However, so is the symbolism. Deployments in active war zones are reality for many hitherto homebound "unblooded" Cold War armies. I argue in this essay that although significant changes have taken place and although armed forces both internally and in their relation to society has become more "civilianized", paradoxically, they have at the same time become more, rather than less, different from their surrounding society. This is due to their different practical experiences and consequently different requirements for ethos and morale. Not only are these changes happening spontaneously, but in order to function properly Western armed forces actively need to readapt the traditional warrior ethic along with their new skills.

In order to discuss the changes in the social organisation of armed forces it is necessary to map out the world and society they wil be operating in and the threats they can be expected to counter. Having done that, I will in turn examine the relationship between armed forces and their society and the altered social relationships within armed forces themselves. My main focus w ill be on Western armed forces, as in contrast to those of the former Soviet Union, they have not collapsed but are continuously changing and active on a global scale.

The post-Cold War world

In order to describe the world within which post-Cold war armies exist and operate it is useful to adopt J.N. Rosenau's three parameters of world politics. These are the overall global structure, i.e. the macro; the linkage between state and citizens, the micro-macro relationship; and finally the skills of citizens, the micro. Rosenau argues that for the first time since the Peace of Westphalia all three parameters are undergoing simultaneously change, resulting in "global turbulence." (1)

Higher levels of education combined with the revolution of information technology has meant that the global populace overall has become more assertive and critical, especially when it comes to defining their own allegiances and sense of belonging. (2) This means that citizens are less inclined to automatically believe in authoritative leaders and national entities.

This development has a direct impact on the relation between the citizen and the state, which traditionally was based on obedience, but which increasingly is based on so-called "performance criteria," the approval of the citizenry from case to case.Thus the support of a critical public for state policy is not guaranteed as such. The public needs to be courted by decision makers, and, as Rosenau argues, "raw elements of power" - resources and military capabilities - need to be backed up by "social cohesion."(3)

On a global level states operate in a world where supranational organisations and multinational corporations regulate many aspects of world affairs. The traditional leverage of international politics, military force, is in many instances of little use in a world in which economic performance in a free market is paramount. (4) This is especially the case after the "victory" of liberal capitalism and free trade in the wake of the end of the Cold War.

Along with these changes new global pressures are changing the physical boundaries within which the global system operates. Along with explosive population growth in the South, vital resources such as water and arable land are becoming scarce in many parts of the world. (5)

These changes are not directly linked to the end of the Cold War. However, with regard to conflicts indirectly caused by these changes, the withdrawal of superpower patronage has meant that developments long in the offing are allowed to run their course in many parts o f the world. At the same time a more co-operative UN made outside intervention a possibility.

New rolesfor the military

Since the end of the Cold War there has been much speculation about the nature of war and what kind of military contingencies the West will have to prepare for. One extreme version is that of Alvin and Heidi Toffler, who predict that future war will reflect developed economies of post industrial society. “Third wave warfare” as they call it, will to an even larger extent than the Gulf War, rely on information technology and highly trained specialists operating smart weapons on a nearly empty battlefield. (6) Another extremist view is that of Martin Van Creveld, who believes that interstate wars are a thing of the past. Due to the inflexibility of conventional armies for what he now sees as their only possible task, fighting insurrections and terror gangs, they w ill transform themselves into paramilitary forces in an unsuccessful attempt to keep control.(7) Indeed, the Gulf War is dismissed as "the last scream of the American eagle." (8) However, a third and more positive vision of the future also took hold immediately after the end of the Cold War. Many observers believed that the world would be more peaceful and that there would be little role for Western armed forces. Martin Shaw in 1990 predicted that "European militaries - except the Soviet - are likely to have fewer active military functions, confined effectively to the symbolic and (in some cases internal) security roles, with some contributions to international peacekeeping" (9) However, if we accept the turbulent world view combined with the altered global boundaries it could be argued that the future is likely to see wars, and therefore contingencies, covering theentire spectrum of violence.

The end of the Cold War was followed closely by the G ulf War, which on the one hand demonstrated the utility of high technology weapons - owned by the Western powers, primarily the US -and on the other the need for further technologi­ cal developments. (10) To regionalpowers in the South it sparked off a search for countercapabilities.Warbetweenthe"economically-intertwinedFirstWorld" (11) is unlikely, but the possibility of a non democratic regional power trying to gain regional and ultimately Global hegemony through war cannot, according to a persistent American school of thought, be ruled out. (12) It is in response to this kind of thinking, however farfetched, that the US military currently is preparing not only to be able to fight two "rogue" states in regional wars simultaneously, but also if necessary a "peer competitor", i.e. a resurgent Russia, China or even India armed with advanced technology. This philosophy has also ensured the survival of NATO and thus a commitment among European armies :o keep a core of technology­ intensive conventional forces.

Lower down the scale are interventions in internal conflicts. Since the end of the Cold War internal conflicts have increased in numbers and have become the norm. (13) Whether this is due to resource scarcity (14) or enhanced assertiveness of "ethnic and other aggrieved groups" (15) is not :he question here. The point is that they are happening and likely to continue to happen. This kind of conflict may see two possible types of western military response.

One is “Peace Support” operations. In the years since 1989 more peacekeeping operations have been launched than in the previous half century. On the one hand intervention in "failed states" has a very low priority among Western decision makers, although some crises might be perceived to have a wider impact on global stability. (16) On the other hand, democracies, because of the so-called "CNN effect" often compelled to "do something" by outraged populaces who because of the electronic media are aware of far away events. However, only rarely does media outcry force governments into taking large scale actions against their will. Considerations of realpolitik apart, governments are caught in a "double bind" - not only from media pressure, but also from fear of possible casualties among western troops in any intervention. (17) As Shaw has shown, the media are normally only successful in prompting action when people caught in distant crises are represented as victims, rather than protagonists or political actors. (18) This is sometimes utilised by Western Governments, who most often engage in limited, piecemeal and token humanitarian interventions rather than addressing underlying problems. Still, U N operations have been launched in response to internal conflicts, in volatile and violent mission areas, and, in sharp contrast to the nature of Cold War peacekee­ ping, have been multidimensional, i.e., including civiliancontingencies operating in humanitarian and political roles as well as military contingents mandated to use force. Furthermore some long-term large-scale deployments in the name of regional stability, such as UNPROFOR7 IFOR/ SFOR,have finally taken place.

In cases of internal conflict where the West perceives itself to have other interests a second type of intervention might take place in order to shore up local elites. As Paul Rogers and Malcolm Dando point out: "The North...requires resource supplies to maintain its wealth, and also requires to secure its major and generally lucrative economic interests in the South." (19) To deal with insurrections several Western armies are currently preparing long range counterinsurgency forces with a global reach. (20)

Thus, in an uncertain future W estern armed forces w ill be expected to carry out a range of different tasks. They are, in contrast to expectations a few years ago, heavily involved in many parts of the globe in more or less limited roles as well as preparing for more conventional but highly hypothetical interstate contingencies. This increased, yet limited activity abroad, combined with a general perception among Western populations that there is little or no immediate threat to their survival, is having a fundamental impact on the internal structure of armed forces and their relationship with the rest of society.

A changing place within society

Due to technology, budget reductions and social cohesion there is a move throughout Europe towards small professional armies. Even if larger conscript armies are kept for an intermediate period to come, serious preparation and actual deployments will be undertaken by a small core of professional volunteers. The heavy reliance on advanced technology which has increased steadily since the Second World War and the consequent need for increasingly well educated soldiers (see below) has meant that it is simply too time-consuming and expensive to educate conscripts to the needed level of proficiency. Smaller post-Cold War budgets add to this problem. It is not possible to field large and at the same time efficient forces with severely restricted means.

As outlined above there are several areas where European armed forces are likely to serve. The general public however do not share in the perception that pursuit of an abstract goal such as Global stability has the same urgency as the Cold W ar threat did. This has meant that the values increasingly underpinning western society since the Second W orld W ar are dictating attitudes to conscription. As Burk points out in a society where the ideals of individual choice and self worth are elevated above other values, military life seems "onerous." (21)

Worse, perhaps, is that time taken out for military service in a mass armed force occurs when young people are supposed to acquire an education to become competitive in the workplace and responsible participants in community life. For them, time out for military service is detrimental to fulfilling their life plan; it seems an unfair and often unwanted form of taxation. (22)

Conscription therefore, with its apparent raison d'être gone has become increasing­ly unpopular in countries like Germany and France.

Furthermore, in the generally less nationalistic and obedient world made up of enlightened individuals the unquestionable readiness of patriotic citizens to go to war "has been attenuated, if not superseded, by a scepticism as to whether policies leading to violent conflict are justifiable." (23) This is especially so in case of the "war" taking place in a far away country and not being perceived as necessary to national survival. Ironically this is also the case when it comes to humanitarian interventions partly brought about by public outcry. The shift towards professional armies is therefore not only a practical measure it is also a way of achieving social cohesion, making use of military assets possible.

James Burk has argued that small professional forces do not necessarily become isolated from society. This is due to the many official and unofficial ties to civilian society ranging from civilian administration, to the need to tune recruitment campaigns to civilian values, to the links provided by families. (24) However, Burk takes as his example the “forces-in-being” established during the Cold War whose prime role was deterrence, not direct or indirect participation in “small wars.” It could therefore be argued that post-Cold W ar professional forces, despite retaining some links with society, w ill bemore isolated than was the case prior to 1990.

With a shift to small professional forces "the link between military participation and citizenship" is disappearing in those countries where conscription used to incorporate the armed forces into society. (25) John Reid, British Minister of State for Defence, recently pointed out that in the two decades prior to 1960 people in Britain with a personal experience of military service (service personnel as well as their families) and thus an understanding of the predicament of the military constituted some 20 million, whereas the figure for 1995 is only 650.000. In twenty years time it is believed that only 2 or 3 in a hundred w ill have had any experience of military life. (26) Shaw proposes that the armed forces will find themselves increasingly isolated in a consumer society in which military values (27) and participation is reduced to "spectator sport militarism", in which the public is "mobilised not as players but as spectators." (28) Shaw predicts that even this spectator militarism will decline as "the scope for participation in "media wars" is...limited." (29) That prognosis however, we know now was a bit premature. In fact Western, especially European, forces have been consistently depicted in combat zones around the globe to a point that never occurred during the Cold War, (excepting Vietnam) making the military and its utility highly visible to the public. As Shaw himself points out "this sort of use of military force reinforces the crudest among all the cultural stereotypes which legitimate the military." (30) But the extent to which armed forces of the West are most likely to be used, in relatively small peacemaking/keeping operations, will serve to isolate the army as a small professional entity markedly different from the rest of society. A crude analogy would be that places like Bosnia provides a media covered 19th century North Western Frontier. The sheer strangeness of existence in war zones to most Western citizens highlights the difference between them and their armed forces. In contrast to a Cold War nuclear clash, it is only the soldiers who are getting in harms way. This removes the bond of shared risk between the greater majority of society (not including the families of servicemen) and the armed forces. More to the point, it is only the soldiers who need and develops the attitudes required in war zones. Attitudes which not only, as was the case during the Cold War symbolism, need to be professed, but effectively internalised.

Therefore whilst armed forces might not become less popular in the post-Cold War world, they are, by adopting new attitudes, becoming more rather than less different from the rest of society.

Social change within the armedforces

The establishment of small professional armies equipped with advanced technology, but prepared for low-level operations as well, combined with less respect for authority and declining militarism in society in general is bound to have a "civilianizing" impact on the social organisation of armed forces. Yet the opposite is also true as armed forces in order to cope with their tasks needs to be guided by a ethos and value system different from that of society.

The reliance on advanced technology, much of it "dual technology" creates a necessity for special skills which not only demand a high level of education but which in many cases are compatible with civilian functions. The obvious example is the increasing reliance on computers in most armies. As the Tofflers explain, comparing the armed forces to society: "mindless warriors are to Third Wave war what unskilled manual labourers are to the Third Wave economy - an endangered species." (31) Indeed the need for technical skills (combined with the perceived lack of enthusiasm for martial values in society) is such that their civilian utility is used as the "selling point" in recruitment campaigns. (32) The need for another kind of skills that are not traditionally associated with soldiering is also to be found among all ranks operating in Peace Support operations. As Morris Janowitz pointed out more than three decades ago, officers need to be "sensitive to the political and social impact o f the m ilitary establishment on international security affairs." (33) Today many scholars agree that some sort of negotiation and mediation skills are needed along with "inter cultural awareness training" among privates and NCOs as well as officers. (34) This is so as soldiers operating on all levels in a fluid environment often have a direct impact on the peace process.

This kind of specialisation, again reinforced by general dislike of authoritarian systems, is likely to blur the distinction and importance between ranks. W ith regard to technology officers will be dependent on subordinates who have superior knowledge in their area of expertise. The Tofflers again: "in the Third Wave military, exactly as in the Third Wave corporation, decisional authority is pushed to the lowest level possible." (35) The same phenomenon is to be seen in Peace Support operations, where the actions and decisions of squad leaders and platoon commanders, i.e. the soldiers in contact with the warring populations, can have impact on the strategic and political level. This is especially so in a media age. (36)

Most scholars writing on the issue agree that the skills of the "managerial technician" are more important to officers in the post-modern armed forces than those of the "combat leader." (37) At the same time contemporary officers, even in an tradition ridden army like the British one, are less concerned with military traditions and values. (38) This means that armed forces are becoming more like a civilian organisation and less of an "institution," and asjob more "occupational" and less "professional." (39) In short, more like any otherjob. At the highest command levels there is a call for the “soldier-scholar" and "soldier-statesman." This is especially so in a time where the military is pushed into operations against its w ill. Richard Betts has made a convincing case that while soldiers are less inclined to resort to force than politicians they resent "piecemeal incrementalism" and therefore want autonomy and the right to use whatever means they judge necessary. (40) In the present world however politicians, reluctantly reacting to media co-ordinated outcry, are imposing limited, often impossible and nearly always politically delicate, missions on militaries without granting them even full operational control. Samuel Huntington’s statement that "politics is an art, military science a profession" and that "the superior political wisdom o f the statesman must be accepted as a fact" today is a qualified truth as art and science merge. (41) The officer “skilled in handling the media and adept in the intricacies of international diplomacy" (42) therefore becomes a necessity for the armed forces in order to effectively advise the political decision-makers and to preserve a minimum of operational autonomy and not, as James Burk and Charles Moskos believed, to justify themselves in an increasingly demilitarised world. (43) According to this thesis military command becomes more like business management, and on a higher level a fusion between military leaders and politicians occurs.

It could therefore be argued that the armed forces of today are less based on obedience, authority and martial values than previously and that in many respects the profession has become civilianized in its social relationship. This thesis, however, is only logical to a certain point. The armed forces of today might resemble civilian society more, but on two important points they differ enormously. During the Cold War "war" was for most Western armies largely hypothetical, and had it happened civilians and soldiers would have suffered likewise. W ith the Cold War gone the situation is reversed. Whereas western civilians are not facing any physical danger, there is a real risk for soldiers of being wounded or killed in battle. Most Western armies are involved, some would say even overstretched in small scale operations and combat. As an American soldier said about Somalia: "In the first two weeks I was in Somalia, I saw more combat than during six months in Saudi." (44) The calculated risk of combat, death and injury is not part of the civilian job contract. This has important consequences.

Reid points out that while there is an increasing trend in society away from traditional social cohesion towards individualism, this goes against the values needed in the armed forces if they are to engage effectively in combat operations - "trust, the idea of community, the idea of national service." (45) Furthermore, the kind of operations encountered in Somalia and Bosnia as well as the technical skills discussed above call for eternal martial values, i.e. the ability of armed forces to sustain casualties without loosing efficiency. We should therefore revisit Homer’s Iliad, which "is not so much concerned about with what people do, as the way they do it, above all the way they face suffering and death." (46)A Dutch soldier who belonged to the unit which did not fight at Srebenica, but stood by while the civilian population was raped, tortured and killed, said afterwards: "It wasn’t easy to watch wives and kids being taken away from their men. Perhaps we could have done more, but many of us would be dead." (47) Units like this are not fit for war, not even on a small scale. Governments have to realise this. As Martin Bell wrote about the British Government and Bosnia: "[its] primary concern was the safety of British troops - in which case those troops should never have been in Bosnia at all, but playing war games out of harm's way on the ranges of Salisbury plain." (48)

Because post-Cold War armies are more likely than their symbolic predecessors to see real combat, albeit not “classic war” , officers who are only good managers will no longer suffice. As Bell points out: "The peacetime army is uncomfortable with charismatic officers. It is at a loss to know what to do with them. It tends to promote managers rather than leaders." (49) However, as Van Creveld explains: "management and command are by no means identical. Quite apart from the problem of motivation, the difference between them consists of precisely the greater uncertainty governing war, the most confused and confusing of all human activities." (50) The officers recruited to the new small armies w ill therefore have to be combat leaders as well as managers. Likewise the Soldier-Scholars will ultimately have to remember Clautzewitz's dictum: "we say the general becomes a statesman, but he must not cease to be the general." (51) As Bell writes about General Rupert Smith, who finally bombed the Serbs into submission: "it was not the general's business to court the favour o f governments, including his own. It was his business to set out the consequences o f action - and, especially in the Bosnian case, of inaction." (52)

Conclusion

Armed forces after the Cold War have accelerated developments long in the making and more closely resemble the civilian society they live within. Skills and command relations have become more like those of civilian enterprises, based on individual competence and initiative and less on central direction and obedience. However, despite these similarities they are likely to become more distinct from the larger society they exist within due to lack of shared experiences. By experience and necessity o f overseas deployments post-Cold W ar soldiers, in sharp contrast to their predecessors, live by an ethos which sets them apart from the rest of society. Social values ultimately based upon the goals of the group rather than those of the individual also set them apart. Traditional martial values are equally alien to most of civilian society.

Yet, these changes are happening without the open acknowledgement of military establishments and their political masters. The continuing relevance of warrior ethics needs to be accepted openly and not only acknowledged tacitly and conditionally. In regard to recruitment and training on all levels the requirements of active service need to be taken into account, not only in budgets but also in attitudes. Service personnel need to be told in uncertain terms that long term overseas deployments in dangerous places with the risks entailed, including combat, is their raison d ’etre. In regard to officers the need for combat leaders should be acknowledged. This means not only promoting at times unconventional and charismatic individuals, but also emphasising combat leadership in officer training as a primary skill and criterion along with managerial and communications abilities. Governments needs to ensure a degree of understanding and thus basis of support among an increasingly demilitarised public. Apart from information campaigns in which the new roles and special requirements of the armed forces are spelt out some analysts have pointed to a “two-tier” system as compromise between the large conscript force and the small professional one. The argument is that if a reserve force made up of part time soldiers is kept it w ill expose the army to civilian values. (53) However, for the opposite reason Reid proposes that units like the Territorial Army should be strengthened, and when necessary used in combat support roles, to ensure a broader base of military experience in the public. (54) Both views are correct. What Janowitz wrote about the officer corps as early as 1960 is today true, albeit in a slightly different sense, not only of the armed forces, but also of society at large: "No longer is it feasible...to operate on a double standard of "peacetime" and “wartime" premises." (55)

Notes and References

This essay is a revised version of a paper originally submitted as part of the requirements for the M A in War Studies, King’s College, London. I am grateful to Professor Christopher Dandeker, who read and commented on several drafts. Any errors and shortcomings are, of course, my own.

1. J. N. Rosenau, "Armed force and armed forces in a turbulent world," in James Burk (ed.), The military in New Times, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), p.28

2. Ibid, p.31

3. Ibid, p.34

4. See overview of turbulent world in J.N. Rosenau, Turbulence in world politics, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p.101

5. For a general discussion see Chapter 10, "new Global pressures" in Paul Rogers and Malcolm Dando, A violent peace: Global security after the end of the Cold war, (London: Brassey's, 1993), pp.130-158

6. Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and anti-war: survival at the dawn ofthe 21st century, (London: W arner Books, 1995), pp.79-101 and 139-149

7. Martin Van Creveld, Onfuture War, (London: Brassey's, 1991), pp.192-123

8. Ibid,p.14

9. Martin Shaw, Post-Military Society, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), p.157

10. Gary Stix, "Fighting future wars", Scientific American, December, (1995), p.75

11. Donald M.Snow, “American national security”,in Burk (1994), p.104

12. Ibid

13. P. Wallensteen and M. Sollenberg, "After the Cold War: emerging patterns of armed conflict 1989-94," Journal ofPeace Research, 32:2, 1995

14. See Thomas Homer Dixon, "Environmenmtal scarcity and violent conflict," International Security, 19:1, (1994)

15. Rosenau (1990), p.196

16. See eg. H. Binnendijk and P. Clawson, "New strategic priorities," The Washington Quarterly, 18:1, 1995, pp.l 19-21

17. Martin Shaw, Civil Society and media in global crises: representing distant violence, (New York: Pinter, 1996), p.180

18. Ibid, pp.156-183; for an alternative view see James F. Hoge, "Media persuasi­veness", Foreign Affairs, 73:4, (1994)

19. Rogers and Dando (1993), p.155

20. Paul Rogers, "A jungle full of snakes? power, poverty and international security" in Geoff and Kath Tansey and Paul Rogers, A World divided: militarism and development after the Cold War, (London: Earthscan, 1994), p.19

21. James Burk, “Recent trends in civil-military relations”, The Tocqueville Review, 17:1,(1996), p.88

22. ibid, p.89

23. Rosenau, (1990), p. 194

24. Burk, (1996), pp. 91-95

25. Shaw, (1991), p.75

26. Dr. John Reid (Labour MP), "Armed Forces and Society", lecture given at Royal United Service Institute, London, February 19, (1997)

27. See discussion in Shaw, (1991) pp.73-105

28. Ibid, p.78

29. Ibid, p. 156

30. Ibid, p.184

32. Toffler and Toffler, (1995), p.95

33. Shaw, (1991), p.144

34. Morris Janowitz, The professional soldier: a social and political portrait, (London: Macmillan, 1971), p.420

35. See A.B.Fetherston and C. Nordstrom, "Overcoming habitus in conflict management: UN peacekeeping and war zone ethnography", Peace and change, 20:1, (1995)

36. Toffler and Toffler, (1995), p.99

37. R.B. killebrew, "Combat peacekeeping: fashioning an American approach to intervention operations", Armed Forces Journal International, October, (1995), p.79

38. Charles C. Moskos and James Burk, "The postmodern military," in Burk (1994), p.154

39. See Chapter 8, "Young officers" in Antony Beevor, Inside the British Army, (London: Gorgi, 1991), pp.110-24

40. See Henning Sørensen, "New perspectives on the military profession: the I/O model and esprit de Corps reevaluated", Armed Forces & Society, 20:4, (1994), pp.599-617

41. See Richard Betts, Soldiers, statesmen, and Cold War crises, (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1977)

42. Samuel P. Huntington, The soldier and the state: the theory and politics of civil-military relations, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1972), p.76

43. Moskos and Burk, in Burk (1994), p.154

44. Ibid

45. Richard Lacayo, "How the Troops see it", Newsweek, October 18, 1993. On Bosnia See eg. Ed Vulliamy, "Shootbat Squaddies' hidden battles", The 

45. Reid (1997)

46. Oliver Taplin, "Homer", chapter 2 in: John Boardman, Jasper Griffin and Oswyn Murray (eds.), The Oxford history of the classical world, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p.59

47. Robert Block, "Dutch troops ignored Bosnia killings", The Independent, 21 September, 1995

48. Martin Bell, In harms way: reflections ofa warzone thug, (London: Penguin, 1996), p.268

49. Ibid, p.147

50. Martin Van Creveld, Command in war, (London: Harvard University Press, 1985), p.187

51. Carl Von Clautzewitz, On war, (London: Penguin Classics, 1982), p.157

52. Bell, (1996), p.279

53. See eg. Burk (1996)

54. Reid (1997)

55. Janowitz, (1971) p.419

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